Have you ever wondered what your purpose in life is? I can’t speak for others, but I’ve definitely given it a lot of thought over the years. I understand what my purpose is, it’s getting there that’s the challenge. But what if you’re not sure. What if you don’t know why you were born? What if you never find out your purpose in life? If you don’t, does that mean your life is less worthy than those who already know what their purpose is? It’s not a very pleasant thought, but in Nihilumbra this very notion is brought to the frontlines and is explored in a way that’s unique and engaging.
Like the name implies, this is a very dark and mysterious game. You are Born, a small creature born in the void who desperately seeks a way out of the nothingness that surrounds him. That day comes when Born sees a light and escapes into a world of life, love and splendour, our world. Unfortunately for Born, his escape isn’t permanent. He is a being from the void and cannot exist outside of it. For this reason the void chases him wherever he goes, destroying everything in its path.
Born’s only means of escape is to collect the essences of colour that exist in this strange and foreign world. By using the different colours given to him, he can outwit the foes of the void and the very void itself.
At its heart, Nihilumbra is a sidescroller that combines the complexity of puzzlers and skill from platformers. The layout and design of each level is smart but not unbearably difficult to figure out. The challenge lies in using the colours effectively. What I mean by this is that you not only control Born, but the world around him. Using the different colours he collects on his journey, you can alter the type of surface you walk on. The first colour, blue, makes the ground slippery, which helps to speed you up and boosts the space you’re allowed to jump. Other colours allow you to jump to new heights, creep past enemies and stick to walls. Some of the colours can be used to manipulate enemies as well, like making them slip off cliffs or burn them straight back into the void.
Using the colours is also quite genius. You have the choice of playing solo, with the gamepad, or with a friend, gamepad and Wii remote. I played both to get a feel for them, but playing solo won by a landslide. The Gamepad, which is best viewed on the touchscreen, is much easier to play. You control born with the left analogue stick and you manipulate the environment with the touchscreen. Simply select the colour you want and swipe the ground in the game. The dual player mode is quite challenging. Born is controlled with the Wii Remote and the colours are controlled with the gamepad. It might not sound like a big deal, but there’s a fair amount of co-ordination needed especially closer to the end of the game.
As genius as the game is, the part that bogs it down is how the story is told. All throughout Born’s journey a very boring narrator tries to explain what’s going on in the game and what Born is thinking. I’m not sure if the voice is meant to narrate or be Born’s mental state, whatever it’s meant to be, it doesn’t quite carry the ‘oomph’ very well. It’s not like the narrator in Thomas Was Alone. However, the story itself is very interesting, albeit easy to figure out. It’s also really well written, just not delivered appropriately. Another problem is that the levels are too short for you to establish an emotional connection to the different worlds. It’s a bit hard to explain without spoiling so I’ll try my best. The void, which eventually catches up to Born, destroys the world around him. This is meant to make you feel guilty but since there’s little emotional connection, that sense of consequence isn’t very strong.
What is used to great effect is Born’s animation with respects to the colours and certain environments. Slowly he learns what it means to feel alive, who he is in the world and why he was created, this is what makes the game so special – it’s a journey of self-discovery. So while you won’t care about the world, you will care about him. It may not get all the emotions right, but it pins down the feel good vibes and makes Born not only likeable but memorable.
What also proves to be big positive points in the game is the stunning art style. The visuals aren’t flashy and glitzy, but they portray the world in such an elegant manner. It’s clear that those involved with the game care deeply about it. The same can be said of the music and sound effects, which matches the environment perfectly. I don’t know what it is about Indie games, but the music in them is so magnificent that it breathes life into the game.
Although short, Nihilumbra has a second offering once you’ve beaten the game. It’s not a second story, but rather a mode. Void mode, as it’s called, is extremely difficult and will challenge every brain cell you have in your noggin. This gives the game the added meat it needs, but considering its difficulty, I’m not sure how many people would want to finish it.
Nihilumbra is a game that’s not afraid to ask questions and make you think. It almost dares you to ask yourself: who are you, what is your purpose in life and what are you willing to sacrifice to find that out. If you enjoyed Thomas Was Alone, then you should give this game a try.